My phone and its apps are doughnut holes. I cannot “just eat one”…
The sooner I start to consume each morning — email, Instagram, texts, headlines — the more my screen cravings spike. It makes each day pass too quickly, not in a “time flies when you’re having fun” kind of way but rather, “How the hell is it 5 o’clock again and I’ve done nothing except feel desperately busy?”
I hate how addicted I am to those little pings; how I’ll lunge for phantom alerts that tease the edges of my peripheral vision. I’ll scroll forever through videos of animal friendships or remarkable kids on Ellen. These habits stretch my work hours longer than they need to be stretched. I hate how, once I am “off the clock,” I still can’t fully tear myself away from the incessant buzzing. I have been at dinners with my friends and boyfriend and family — people who I never get to see enough… and yet: *refresh, check, refresh, click, click, ping, pong.*
I fantasize about not being this way. If I were a better person, I’d put my phone in a mason jar and bury it in apricot preserves. I’d communicate exclusively through hand-written notes. But that’s not reality, is it? There has to be an in-between.
For help, I turned to Marie Forleo, author of Everything is Figureoutable. For seven mornings in a row, Forleo challenged me to avoid emails, podcasts, news, phone calls, TV, texts, all of that — until I accomplished three things: I had to do something physical, write in a journal, and follow my breath for a minimum count of 10.
“Each person has an internal compass,” Forleo explained to me. By reducing the amount of morning data we consume, she believes that we’re better able to focus on where that compass is pointing.
I decided to try it.
On day one of Marie’s morning challenge, I woke up to the sound of my 6:30 a.m. alarm. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the telltale sign of a text notification. I reached for it, then slapped my own hand away. Then I journaled for three pages, meditated for a heroic fifteen minutes, and somehow made it to the gym without checking my phone. But at the gym, I thought about my phone the entire time as though it were an ex-boyfriend. What’s it doing right now? I wondered. Who is texting it? The moment I finished working out, I grabbed my phone from the locker and drank up screen time like a protein shake.
Tuesday began with a less than enthusiastic wakeup. I shortened my meditation to three minutes, and only journaled for two. My movement was a 20-minute walk to my therapist’s office. Normally, I’d commute while listening to The Daily podcast, sending texts and trying not to get hit by cars. Because none of that was allowed, I walked in silence. It was nice, but I spent the entire time itchy and uncomfortably disconnected from the world. A huge bonus was that I arrived early, which literally never happens. And I give credit to my morning phone break for launching one of the most productive, focused Tuesdays I’ve had in a while.
Wednesday was rough. Recently, my anxiety has been playing a thrilling game called, “Who do you think is mad at you right this very second?” When this happens, it is almost physically impossible to not scan every form of correspondence in an attempt to review all recent contact with the arbitrary subject of my anxiety’s attention (“HEY! I BET MARY IS MAD AT YOU!”). I’d actually go so far as to say that it makes not checking my phone a unique form of torture. Yet, somehow, I managed. Which was satisfying. Plus, my sense of rationale returned more quickly, and I was able to get on with my day, rather than let worries consume me entirely.
Thursday and Friday:
Maybe Wednesday had been the proverbial hump we all have to get over, because Thursday and Friday were downright easy. I was able to coast off the positive effects I was already feeling — I was less anxious overall, consistently early (it’s remarkable how, when you aren’t on your phone all the time, you’re suddenly like, “Hmm, guess I have nothing better to do than leave my bed now, weird…”) and less tempted to check Instagram during the day. At work, I had an easier time generating ideas. I didn’t “forget” I had a phone at dinners, but the thought of checking it felt like an unnecessary annoyance. Similarly, I learned to love quiet, phone-free walks. Without an immediate inundation of photos and opinions each morning, I was able to think more clearly. This felt like a revelation. Poor everyone, I told anyone about it who would listen. Welcome to my new church!
Flew too close to the sun, as they say: on Saturday, I woke up tired following a dinner with friends and was not in the mood to journal or meditate. I mostly wanted food. My boyfriend reminded me that I had said just a couple days before, “Meditating, journaling and moving don’t have to take up your whole morning, you know. It can be a one-minute-each thing.” So, I begrudgingly took that advice and did a minute of journaling — just boom, boom, boom of things I was grateful for. Then I did a two-minute meditation. To move, I put on “Girl” by Marren Morris, then did a combination of middle school P.E. exercises and wobbly interpretive dance. This, I highly, highly recommend. I can’t remember the last time I danced around like an idiot by myself.
On Sunday, after a college friend’s wedding, I followed the same expedited journal-meditation-dance routine. Afterward, I felt accomplished and refreshed. It was like stepping out of a shower that you’d kept putting off, and then asking, “Why don’t I do this shower thing all the time???” I noticed that I had way less Sunday anxiety than usual, and my phone had way less appeal. And, on Monday, I woke up genuinely energized (I am never energized), ready to keep the challenge going.
Marie says that repeating this exercise for seven consecutive days helps establish a habit, and it was true. Though my track record wasn’t flawless, I kept up the practice for three stoic weeks. Weekends were harder than weekdays. Anxious thoughts repeatedly tried to take over, sometimes successfully. Having other people around was distracting, no matter how wonderful they are. (I can only imagine what it’s like trying to do this with kids.) And then, on the fourth week, amid a wave of deadlines and a wild-eyed spree to pack up my apartment for a move, I stopped. Plop.
I suppose it’s human nature. One day you’re drinking green juice and bragging about how much you love foam-rolling, then the next thing you know, you can’t pick up the Boston cream doughnut that you dropped on the floor because your hamstrings are so tight. But when I started my mornings without a phone, the all-around benefits to my day, especially over time, were undeniable. My desire to be on my phone has still drastically waned. I now check it, but I don’t linger.
What I like about this practice is that it is, in fact, a practice. It’s about intention. If nothing else, it creates a bit of welcome mental space. In the name of a fresh new month, I’ve decided to start the challenge all over again.
Amelia Diamond is a writer and creative consultant. She’s also a New York Magazine and Man Repeller alum who lives in New York, was raised in San Francisco, and is very much still working on her bio. Follow her on Instagram, @amilli0naire.
(Photo by Maddie Joyce. Says Amelia: “Thank you to Katie Sturino, who Instagrammed about her successful experience with Marie Forleo’s move-journal-meditate morning routine, which is what inspired me to try out this exercise and ultimately, write this piece!”)